Wednesday, February 23, 2005

A Musical Odyssey, Part II

Note: This is Part 2 of my Musical Odyssey series in which I recollect how my musical tastes evolved over the years. For Part 1 go here.

The 1980s were a turning point for my musical interests. I started high school in late 1979 shortly after my family had moved to the small South Texas town of Premont. The Disco Era was rapidly coming to an end and the MTV phenomenon was just getting started as more homes were getting hooked up to cable. At the same time, the dominance of vinyl records was being challenged once again after successfully weathering the onslaught of the 8-track tape. The new cassette tapes opened up a whole new world of music by allowing me to record music that I would otherwise have been unable to purchase on my own. It also allowed me to record my favorite music compilations to listen to in the car.

As previously noted, I had purchased the Bee Gees album "Tragedy" which was in many ways the swan song of disco. A couple of other songs from that period that caught my fancy at the time included "Le Freak" by Chic, “Knock on Wood” by Amii Stewart, “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” by Rod Stewart and “Heart of Glass” by Blondie.
The first record albums I bought (or recorded) in my early high school days included:

REO Speedwagon - Hi Infidelity
Rick Springfield - Working Class Dog
Queen - The Game
Joan Jett - I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll

Working Class Dog was a highly underrated album in my opinion. There were a lot of songs that I thought were even better than the breakout hit “Jessie’s Girl” including “Hole in My Heart,” “Carry Me Away” and “Everybody’s Girl.”
“Crazy Little Thing Called Love” by Queen was a big hit at school. And when Queen released “Another One Bites the Dust” it was a sensation almost on par with their earlier smash “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions.” But I also liked “Dragon Attack” which was never released off of the album.

Then there was The Chipmunks -Chipmunk Punk (note: I had the record, not the 8-track).
I don’t remember how I ended up with that album, but I listened to it alot. I’m still more familiar with the Chipmunks version of “My Sharona” than with the original by The Knack. It was also several years later before I realized that “Refugee” was a song by Tom Petty.

About this time I also began to expand my interests in country music after purchasing the Urban Cowboy soundtrack album, which was much better than the movie. Songs like “All Night Long” by Joe Walsh and “Nine Tonight” by Bob Seger really rocked, while “Lookin’ For Love” by Johnny Lee and “Could I Have This Dance” by Anne Murray were music hall staples. Then there was the classic “Devil Went Down to Georgia” by Charlie Daniels and my introduction to The Eagles with “Lyin’ Eyes.”

Here is the full lineup:
Jimmy Buffett - Hello Texas
Joe Walsh - All Night Long
Dan Fogelberg - Times like These
Bob Seger And The Siver Bullet Band - Nine Tonight
Mickey Gilley - Stand By Me
Johnny Lee - Cherokee Fiddle
Anne Murray - Could I Have This Dance
The Eagles - Lyin Eyes
Johnny Lee - Lookin For Love
Bonnie Raitt - Don't It Make Ya Wanna Dance
The Charlie Daniels Band - The Devil Went Down To Georgia
Mickey Gilley - Here Comes The Hurt Again
Gilley's 'Urban Cowboy' Band - Orange Blossom Special/ Hoedown
Kenny Rogers - Love The World Away
The Charlie Daniels Band - Falling In Love For the Night
Bonnie Raitt - Darlin
Boz Scaggs - Look What You've Done to Me
Linda Ronstadt/J.D Souther - Hearts Against the Wind

Other country albums that influenced my tastes from the early 80s:

Hank Williams Jr. - Family Tradition
Jerry Jeff Walker - Jerry Jeff
George Strait - Strait From the Heart
Oak Ridge Boys - Fancy Free
Ronnie Milsap - Greatest Hits
Eddie Rabbit - Horizon
Don Williams - Yellow Moon
Alabama - Mountain Music

Kenny Rogers was also big at the time with “Coward of the County” getting lots of radio play along with his older hit “The Gambler” and his syrupy ballad “Lady.” I also liked Eddie Rabbit’s - “I Love A Rainy Night” and “Drivin’ My Life Away” with the snappy beat and catchy lyrics like “Those windshield wipers slappin' out a tempo, Keepin' perfect rhythm with the song on the radio”.
“Elvira” was a huge hit for the Oak Ridge Boys. I remember singing that song over and over to pass the time while mowing lawns with a riding lawnmower -

“Giddy Up Oom Poppa Oom Poppa Mow Mow
Giddy Up Oom Poppa Oom Poppa Mow Mow
Heigh-ho Silver, away”

But I was only dabbling in country music before Alabama came out with “Mountain Music” and nearly made me a country devotee for life. Their upbeat, rock-n-roll style of country music was a revelation to me. I even went to see them in concert when they were in San Marcos and got all their autographs on a publicity photo. But what kept me going back to rock music was MTV. This was back when MTV actually played music videos and had a huge influence on the popularity of music. Initially, the bands that took advantage of this new format were obscure English bands with very different music than what we were used to here in the states. There was Squeeze and Human League and Flock of Seagulls and Duran Duran and Adam Ant and Haircut 100 and Bow Wow Wow and Soft Cell and many more.
Unfortunately for most of those artists, my interest never went far enough to actually purchase one of their albums (with the exception of Duran Duran). Instead, I stuck pretty close to mainstream U.S. pop-rock groups.

Over the next couple of years (1980-82) I would pick up some albums that would become some of my all-time favorites:

The Police - Ghost in the Machine
Loverboy - Get Lucky
The Go Go’s - Beauty and the Beat
Foreigner - Four
J. Geils Band - Freeze Frame
Asia - Asia
Cheap Trick - One on One.
John Cougar - American Fool
Devo - New Traditionalists

My favorite music video back then was “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” by The Police. I tended to prefer videos that showed actual live performances, but for some reason I enjoyed watching Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland goofing around in the recording studio, jumping on furniture and lampooning their own lyrics. Their album Ghost in the Machine is still one of my all-time favorites. There are only a few artists who I’ve made an effort to collect all their recordings - The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, to name a few... But the Police was the first band that I made my own. The Police became my favorite rock band in the same way that the 1975-76 Cincinnatti Reds had become my favorite baseball team. When they came out with Synchronicity a few years later I eagerly snatched it up as well. But then I was devestated when I learned that they were breaking up shortly after that. With no more new Police albums, I started buying all their older albums until I had the whole collection. Then I continued to buy the new Sting solo music as it was released.

I really liked the other albums as well, but for whatever reason I didn’t follow up and buy their later albums (With the exception of Cheap Trick which continued to be a favorite rock band through college). For some, the early 80s was there hey day. J. Geils Band didn’t release another album after their big splash with “Freeze Frame” and “Centerfold.” Loverboy never made it as big again after “Working For the Weekend.” Asia dwindled away after their big hits “Heat of the Moment” and “Only Time Will Tell.” The Go-Go’s never broke the Top 10 again after “We Got the Beat” and Foreigner had a few big hits after Four but none that achieved the status of “Juke Box Hero” and “Urgent”.
Of course, John Cougar went on to bigger and better things after he reclaimed his last name of Mellencamp and I would later pick him back up in college.

By my junior year in High School (1981-82) the world had become enamored with Michael Jackson whose album Thriller was dominating the air waves with “Beat It,” “Billie Jean” and the super-long MTV video for “Thriller” complete with Eddie Van Halen guitar solo. Meanwhile, I mostly listened to the albums listed above while picking up a few more like George Thorogood - Bad to the Bone, Billy Squire - Emotions in Motion, Men at Work - Business as Usual and Billy Joel - Nylon Curtain.
Some more interesting music came out during my senior year - chiefly the above mentioned Synchronicity by The Police - but also ZZ Top - Eliminator, David Bowie - Let’s Dance, Billy Joel - Innocent Man, and my first introduction to Bob Dylan - Infidels.

Songs on the radio (High School)
Rush - Tom Sawyer
Survivor - Eye of the Tiger
Thomas Dolby - She Blinded Me With Science
Dexy’s Midnight Runners - Come On Eileen
Physical - Olivia Newton John
Ebony & Ivory - McCartney/Wonder
Abracadabra - Steve Miller Band
Eddie Grant - Electric Avenue

Alaska Republicans have second thoughts on Global Warming

Interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal yesterday (2/22/05 page A4) noting that Alaska’s two Republican senators appear to be having a change of heart about their opposition to global warming legislation now that their home state is being impacted negatively.

“In Alaska, where severe storms, flooding and permafrost melting have caused widespread damage, the two Republican senators say they are willing to reconsider carbon-dioxide regulation after voting against it two years ago.”

Funny how conservative Republicans suddenly become more generous, forgiving and broadminded whenever an issue impacts them personally. No doubt Sens. Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski would have remained unmoved in their opposition to emmission curbs if it was some other state suffering the ill effects of global warming. But Alaska just happens to have longest coastline in the U.S. and the melting sea and glacier ice has resulted in severe erosion and flooding problems in 86 percent of the state’s native villages.

According to the article, Sen. Stevens is proposing to help the impacted villages with funds that would be generated by opening the Arctic Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling - an issue the Congress is expected to take up in the coming weeks.
As if that were not ironic enough, the article goes on to note this additional irony - “If Congress approves drilling in the refuge... oil companies could find it hard to start exploration (because) the runways of the nearest airport... are often underwater now after fall storms.”

Monday, February 21, 2005

S.A. Fire Department - An appreciation

We took my son who is 18 months to a birthday party over the weekend and had a great time. Our across the street neighbors have twin boys who were just turning 1 and they threw a heck of a party. We were watching them prepare all morning, bringing in boxes of presents and balloons and such. Then a truck pulled up and unloaded two of those moonwalk bouncing castles and we thought Wow! all this for 1-year-olds. Well, they do have large extended familes with lots of children, so it made sense. But then my jaw dropped when two large San Antonio Fire Engines pulled up and parked in front of our house. I knew the parents had chosen fire fighters as the theme for their kids' room, but this was truly over the top. I wondered who had what kind of pull to make this happen.

As it turns out, it did not require any pull at all. The mother had simply stopped by the local fire station the day before and asked if they would mind dropping by for the party and they happily agreed. I think there were 8 or 9 firemen there all dressed up and they gave all the kids (about 15-20 of all ages) a tour of the trucks and a short lesson in fire safety basics.
It was a swell way to kick off the birthday party. My little boy had a great time climbing around on the fire engines - a tanker and a ladder truck - and we took lots of pictures.

It was a great bit of PR for the fire department plus an opportunity to promote fire safety. I'm sure the city encourages them to get out and do things like this. It probably beats sitting around the fire station all the time and they would have been able to respond to any emergency in the same amount of time since they were less than a mile away from the firehouse.

Mixed Up Music

My new computer at work came with iTunes and enough hard drive space to dump a ton of music onto it. I currently have about 8 gigabytes of music loaded up which is an insane amount I know. It would take over a week to listen to every song. What is neat about it though is that you can shuffle the entire library of music at any time and play it in random order. Here for example is the mix of music that came up at random when I hit the shuffle feature just now:

Slither - Velvet Revolver
Jazz Me Blues - Bix Beiderbecke
Looking For My Love in the Pouring Rain - Tish Hinojosa
Greenbacks - Ray Charles
Relax - Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Stairway to Heaven - Led Zepplin
Rehumanize Yourself - The Police
Loves Me Like A Rock - Paul Simon
Apalachicola, Fla. - Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters
Jumpin’ Jack Flash - The Rolling Stones
You’re A Big Girl - Bob Dylan
Death Letter - Cassandra Wilson
Killer Queen - Queen
Walk On - Neil Young
There’s a Cabin in the Pines - Bing Crosby
Broken Arrow - Neil Young
Oh, Lady Be Good! - Lester Young
Big Rock Candy Mountain - Harry McClintock
Tears - John Waite